My mother and I were on a plane trip to England one time, and an older couple came up as we were disembarking. The lady had the kindest, sweetest face. When she saw my collar she beamed brightly, walked up to my mother and said, “You must feel comfortable and safe traveling with a minister, knowing God is protecting you.”
My mother laughed and said, ” You know, I used to feel exactly that way, until my son, here, became one…”
When we accept the assumptions of other people about ourselves, it is all too easy to become a victim of unrealistic expectations.
We do not want to disappoint people who think highly of us, even when they think more highly than is justified. It feels good, initially, to be placed on a pedestal, but eventually those who attempt to live into others’ visions of them will encounter significant problems — especially when expectations exceed capabilities.
There is another, even more dark side to living into the expectations of others, and that is to feel as though we have failed to live up to them. Or, we may feel we can never do enough in a positive way to earn such a high and honored spot in someone’s life.
The question we must ask is “Why would we want to live under the thumb of someone else, to live under their projections for our life, to become their creation, and to give up on being oneself?” To allow another, or any group of people, such power over us is to give up our free will to pursue human approval — rather than giving ourselves over to God, allowing Him to bring forth His will in our lives.
One of the greatest dangers of being the object of unrealistic expectations is how easy it is to believe the mythologies people have about us. Once our pride comes into play, and we begin to believe what we know is not really true about us, we are building our house on a rocky foundation. Before long we are neglecting the important aspects of our life, our true life. When that happens we need to stop, take possession of ourselves, rather than give our lives over to being the construction of someone else’s opinion.
When we begin to play the role given us rather than just being who we really are, we may ignore our own physical, spiritual, and emotional health as we try ever harder to live up to a starry-eyed view others project on to us. Or worse, live into the image of a failure, or loser, someone else has us pegged for… Marriages can fall apart when expectations drive a spouse to try to do more than is good for them, or live into the prediction that “They will never make it”… Friendships may wither as we choose our friends on the basis of decoration and scenery — who makes us look good, or fits “the image”…
I have heard it said, “What lies beyond my power also lies beyond my responsibility.” If you are on anyone’s pedestal, or target range, get off. It is not a safe place to be. Just be yourself, and the person God is calling you to be.
The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.
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